New Wine 2013: Deeper


Psalm 145:4-5

One generation will commend your works to another…

Monday, September 9, 2013

Richard Johnson: Generation Y – We Need Them, They Need Us

Rich Johnson  

Rev Rich Johnson


STATISTICS point to the year 2020 when it is predicted that nearly half the world’s population, three billion, will belong to Generation Y. They are also known as the Millennials, the Net Generation and the Peter Pan generation.

If we are not of that generation, how well do we understand them?

Sociologist Peter Elmore has described them as

  • Overwhelmed – they are a generation marked by stress
  • Overprotected – they lack life resilience, leads to an unrealistic seeking after perfection in everything

  • Over served – they are “generation me” and expect things done for them.
  • Overconnected – their world and their favoured escape is online and 24/7. 

The most profound reason for this is probably technology. They are the first generation to grow up entirely in an online and connected, technology-dominant world.

Taking a black and white view, they are a generation of stark paradoxes:

  • Sheltered – yet pressured
  • Self-absorbed – yet characteristically generous
  • Social – yet often isolated
  • Ambitious – yet anxious
  • Adventurous – yet protected from adventure
  • Diverse – yet generally harmonious and accepting
  • Visionary – yet vacillating
  • High achievers – but with high maintenance to go with it.

Who are they? Young adults and youth, but bear in mind that at the younger end, youth are now Yr 6 to Yr 11 and years 12 and 13 would see themselves as young adults.

How do we reach them, raise them, release them?


Understand the characteristics:

1. They want to BELONG first before they believe
2. They want an EXPERIENCE before an explanation
3. They look for a CAUSE before they do a course
4. They warm to a GUIDE ON THE SIDE rather than a ‘sage on the stage’ (Pete Hughes)
5. They want to contribute sand not just consume
6. They seek TRANSFORMATION, not just a touch

We will reach this generation largely THROUGH this generation. They will bring their friends to something they have set up. They may not be asking “Is it true?” but they will be asking “Does it work?” They are sensitive to any kind of mixed message – integrity and authenticity trumps cultural relevance every time (so be honest and don’t try too hard). Unlike Generation X, who generally rejected a definite view of ‘truth’, they are seeking a compelling narrative and worldview that makes sense to them.

Church, surprisingly, can offer them everything they need.


Here are five observations that hold true for this group:

1. They are primarily kingdom-focused and not particularly church-focused.

2. Worship and social justice are for them the same thing.

3. They are intrigued by rediscovering ‘ancient ways’ such as liturgy, sacramental spirituality, the Celtic theology of ‘place’ and the new monastic order.

4. They place high value on relationship, community and fun.

5. They have been and are being discipled by the surrounding culture, if they are not being discipled by us.

This calls for a few adaptations to our approaches. Discipleship needs to be radical, challenging – and highly relational i.e. Interactive and with group learning. For example, put on courses without saying that it’s a course, but be participatory and purposeful. They want to be challenged, and they want to be part of something, so don’t avoid the hot topics. They like creative space (like 24/7) but the are also waiting to see if they are invited into your life.

You will have to assume Biblical illiteracy, and a low view of Scripture, addressing these by teaching with a robust kingdom worldview, and creating an environment which brings them into spiritual and practical experience of God – and of kingdom living.


1. Invest intentionally in them.

2. Take risks with them.

3. Guide them into leadership – earlier, quicker, going further.

4. Help them deal with their stuff.

5. Understand that it is vital that we come good on our promises and commitments.

6. Let them shape the culture and future of church.

Practicalities would include inviting them to lead and serve – and preach. Set out clear boundaries, including physical boundaries which define an area of creative space that they can run with. And challenge them to serve.

We need to back their causes – to bless and affirm and also fund them. We need to defend Generation Y from their critics and champion their strengths, while actively mentoring and training and making investments ‘on the job’.

All Saints Worcester, a town centre church with a Generation Y focus, distils this into four stated commitments:

1. We will love and care for you

2. We will disciple and mentor you

3. We will train and equip you

4. We will raise you up and release you.


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